Tuesday

The End of the Road


Yeah, thats right, this 18 month experiment is done. The results? Inconclusive, which means I'll have to retest somewhere down the road. Don't worry, you'll be there along with me or at least will read about it.

Stay tuned for a wildly boring, psycho-analyzing summation of the trip followed by a long roll call of thanks. In a few hours I start the first of 5 flights totalling 46 hours of transit that will eventually put me home. Direct flight? Never heard of it. Officially I will be in June 3rd for 36 hours. The word "horrid" comes to mind at the moment.

I want to close my eyes and re-open them at The Lake.

Your boy,
Brian

The Land of Thai


As a self-professed Foodie, my last stop on this giant wander is most fittingly Thailand. Back home one of my favorite foods is Thai and when I discovered they had a country that actually specialized in this sumptuous food, a visit there was inevitable. Its like finding out there is a TacoBellLand or ChipotleLand. it is a mecca for people who get more excited for the next meal than what ancient artifact that may be looming in the background.
It was straight to Bangkok for me. I stayed not far from the infamous backpacker ghetto of Khao San Road and took went about the business of trying to eat 4 meals of Thai food a day. This is not a food blog (actually I have no idea what kind of blog this is) so I will spare you the probably boring-to-you details of what has been delicious other than it all has been. Luckily for me, I was able to meet up Jana Reid and her boyfriend Sean, with whom we both share many mutual friends back in our native Kansas City. They have been living and working in Bangkok for about 9 months and were nice enough to show the ropes and provide some insight into living in the craziness that is Bangkok. We did a bit of touring and they steered me towards some amazing Thai foods. They seemed to be thorougly enjoying their lives there I can see why as Bangkok possesses an allure and cool that swallows many people whole. Way up on the list of places to return to one day. I left Jana and Sean in Bangkok to head up north and then south, but I hope to rendevous with them to celebrate the end of this adventure before my flight back home.

The next stop was the northern city of Chiang Mai, where I spent the next two days exploring the area, with some friends Trilby and Emma, who I have run into at a couple points in the SE Asia circuit so far. By far the highlight of Chang Mai was the legendary Sunday Night Market, where the food stalls were endless and the goods stalls were all amazingly unique. A four hour walk didn't even cover the whole market. By far the best market I have seen in my life. Coming into a close second in the highlight department was the guesthouse pool that offered daily relief from the intense sun. It was all fun in games in the pool until the Kiwi grandfather I recruited to play Marco Polo with us hit his head on the side of the pool in an amazing display of tenacity and agility during the game. He is ok.

From Chiang Mai, the next stop was Pai, an old hippie town that has blossomed into a laid back home base for trekking trips around the region. For practically nothing my friends and I were able to rent motorbikes to explore the area. An activity I see as vital to seeing the best of SE Asia, although on this trip it would be the source of a bit of discomfort. Towards the end of the day yesterday, on a recon mission down a dirt and gravel road to find out about a place that supposedly had fishing opportunities, I found myself approaching two small dogs in the road immediately before me. Fortunately due to the terrible state of the road I was not going very fast, although it was fast enough to have to jam the brakes when the dogs did not scatter from the road, as in normal circumstances. It was all over from here. As I started to soar over the motorbikes handlebars, my first thought was that I had declined the $1 damage insurance on the bike and that that was probably a mistake. My next thought was that the gravel and skin are a terrible combination. I could have strangled those dogs....
Just like in the movies, it all came out OK. The roadrash was not pretty but my friends came to the rescue with the necessary bandages and beer. I also procured a hammer at my guesthouse to bang the bent bike parts back together enough to make no one the wiser.

Speaking of movies, I recently watched Taken and I am relieved my trip is almost done because I had no idea how much danger I am in of being kidnapped abroad and sold into prostitution by an Eastern European gang. Not only would be it scary but the health benefits and pay are atrocious. I'll take my chances back in the mean steets of Missouri.

Jumping on a bus and then a boat to the island of Kho Samet to ride this baby out. Maybe ya'll hear from me or maybe you won't.

Marco,
Polo

Sunday

Angkor


When booking my bus ticket from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap the ticket seller asked me if I had accommodation yet there and I said "no." He told me that he could arrange free transport to a recommended guesthouse and that the moto driver would be holding a sign with my name on it at the bus station. Immature thoughts flooded my brain and the temptation to have some fun with the moto driver was too much to resist.

The town of Siem Reap primarily serves as the base for visiting the famous Angkor Temples. Angkor Wat was the most stunning and somehow I managed to drag myself out of bed in time to view the 5:30am sunrise at it. The Angkor Wat temple is the largest religious building in the world, yada, yada, yada... To put the temples in more understandable layman's terms, its where they filmed Tomb Raider. Was able to take some good pics of the various temple sites, which I will try and upload today for parties interested. Sadly, the best pic of the day was not captured by me. At one site, I was easily coerced into standing with a group of about 50 Asian tourists for a picture. Gladly used as there token Westerner. But the weirdest part was the Buddhist monk who insisted on holding my hand in the picture. I would like to think he was just recognizing the awesome aura radiating from me, although I suspect it was his attempt to cast out the devil he saw lurking within. Hopefully the former.

The town of Siem Reap itself has been quite easy to get used to. On this whole trip, the cheapest accommodation has been found here for $1 a night. This leaves room in the budget to participate in things like having the dead skin on my feet and legs eaten off by fish. Yes, you heard right. There was a pool of fish in town where they charge you to stick your feet in. A bizarre but amazingly refreshing experience. I am mail-ordering 500 of these fish back home so everyone can do it. Keeping regular goldfish never has felt so foolish as now, knowing what these fishies can do. The proprietor even told me the secret to his success: starve the fish. Genius!

Life became random yesterday, almost to the point where I felt like in the Truman Show. In a period of a couple hours I ran into 3 groups of people all mentioned on the blog in one way or another in the last 6 months. One group was Trilby and Emma, of the Wanton Pub Crawl in Hoi An, Vietnam. Another, and really not as random was the Brit and Canadian couple who taught English with me back in Laos, and most bizarrely, ran into one of the Americans I crossed into Israel with 6 months back. I have been looking for fake clouds and cameras in the "sky" ever since.

Busing on over to Thailand tomorrow morning. Will be seeing the bright lights of Bangkok by tomorrow night if all goes well.

Yours,
Mr. Huginkiss

Sad But True

Phnom Penh. Not the classiest place on earth but probably not the sketchiest either. The backpacker ghetto where most travellers stay was awash with overt propositions for sex and drugs. At least a quarter of the people at my guesthouse seemed to be either smuggler types or pleasure seekers, whatever the cost. The going rate on Life seemed a bit cheaper in this part of the world. However cheap it may be now, it is nowhere near its market level in 1975, when the ultra-communist leaderPol Pot and his Khmer Rouge staged one of the world's bloodiest revolutions. Cities were ordered empty, money abolished, and a total agrarian state was attempted. During the ensuing 4 year reign of terror, the Khmer Rouge managed to slaughter 1/4th of the population of Cambodia before the Vietnamese took control of the country in 1979. Justice has never been seen. Pol Pot fled and died in exile in 1998. Other leaders managed to live normally in Cambodia until natural death, except for the few who have finally been arrested. For current-eventers, you may have read that "Duch" the school teacher turned torture warden of the infamous S-21 is now finally on trial, although the proceeding is in danger of mistrial due to alleged corruption in the Cambodian judicial system. Not quite the story of justice one wants to hear about.


Anyways, the also infamous "Killing Fields" are located just outside Phnom Penh, so this in addition to the S-21 prison were necessary to visit while I was there. It was grim. The museum approach of the Killing Field is straightforward--Here is the field of mass graves and here are the bones to prove it happened.

The S-21 museum was alot more informative, containing chilling photos of alot of the 17,000 prisoners that came through there, of which only 7 survived. Interestingly they had documented interviews of many of the hundreds of S-21 guards now living back amongst the neighbors they formerly tortured. Most transcripts included the phrase "I was only following orders." A defense made popular by former Nazis on trial.

Think America is immune from such a inhumane mentality? Watch (or read up) on Yale's famous 1964 "Obedience Experiment" (remember it from Psych class?)in which the majority of Americans in the testing sample administered what they what they thought was a lethal dose of electricity to another audibly screaming person just because a person of authority told them to. Yikes.

What am I getting at? My usual nothing, but sometimes a dose of reality never hurts to penetrate the insular world we live in. For me, seeing places like the Killing Fields, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, the sectarian hate murals of Belfast, etc. represent the shedding away of adult layers of innocence. If I see evidence of another religious or idealogical inspired atrocity, I think I will puke. I used to think being aware of all this was a totally necessary process but now I am second guessing that opinion.

Cue that Don Henley song,
Brian

PS. Sorry to piss in your Monday coffee. I promise to keep the next blog a tad more upbeat.

Thursday

A River Rat


The 4,000 Islands. I don't really think it's an apt name for the area as only a handful of the Mekong river islands are inhabited but nonetheless it does paint the mental picture of tranquility. A place where people get aggressively idle. In general Laotians are already very laid back. Supposedly the French have a saying summing up the people of SE Asia--that the Vietnamese plant the rice, the Cambodians watch it grow, and the Laotians listen to it grow. (Mysteriously the saying omits something about the French selling the rice for their profit). Well, I have never listened to rice grow so I thought I should investigate this phenomenon. And no better place to do this than the river island Don Det.
No bigger than a couple kilometers in length, Don Det has become a must-stop for many travellers heading south to the nearby Cambodian border. The activities list on this locale starts with a stroll around the island and ends with hammock durability testing, with not much else in between. Sadly, sporadic electricity has been introduced to the island, leaving one to look forward to the 10pm power shutoff that returns the island to the desired quietude.

For the second time since I entered Laos I had a bit of an internal plumbing problem. The first time I was in the town of Savannakhet where I was able to buy medicine from a man with a proper bricks and mortar shop, that at least included the word "Pharmacy" (although probably misspelled) on the sign. I was not so lucky on the island. On the advice of the lady I rented the bungalow from I walked over to the underneath of a stilted house, where an old Laotian lady was conducting her trade. I gave her the polite gesture of patting my tummy with a frown to convey my ailment. She in turn made the gesture of eating food and then waving her hand frantically near her behind to show its violent exit. Umm, yeah thats about right...
She then opened her bucket o'toxins and placed all these pills in my hand.

Staring at 12 pills, mostly varied and unmarked, I asked her which ones I was supposed to take and she indicated "all of them." This posed a delimma as I maintain a high personal safety standard, which only allows me to take mass quantities of unknown pills unless I am being paid handsomely by a medical research company. Also, ending up dead on Don Det would spoil what I foresee to be a really fun summer, so I declined to take them right then and there, but bought them as not to hurt the feelings of this aspiring pharmacist. Lucky for me some other travellers offered up some of their more recognizable stock.

Other breaks in idle lazing were a bike trip around the island and the neighboring one. I had been spending the days in the company of 5 Germans I initially met in the village of Tatlo. A hilarious group that made the stay on the island pretty enjoyable. They regularly spouted bits of their German wisdom (they avoid drinking cold water on hot days--with the reasoning that the body has to use energy to warm it up in your body. Not sure I buy it, but it has some merit I guess) and I tried to pass along some practical advice on what to do when residing next to a river. My Missouri-borne wisdom told me that daylight imbibing and jumping off the riverside bar's wooden plank was a suitable pastime. Surely risking fun but also blindness, Laotian brand whisky sells for $1 a bottle on the island and provided the necessary ingredient for a good time by all.

Crossed the Cambodian border yesterday and I now find myself in the capital city Phnom Pehn. If my guesthouse can serve as a microcosym from what awaits me in the rest of the city, its a sunny place for shady people.

Lots of history to ingest today, so I will update soon.
BQ

Friday

Laotian Living


On my bus ride from Savannakhet to Pakse a friendly Laotian struck up a conversation with me containing much of the surface level-line of questioning that one can always expect from a local. "Where are you from? How do you like my country, etc.." The Laotian then abrubtly segued into "The U.S. dropped 100 million lbs of bombs in Laos. Killed many Laos people." It was said without an aire of condemnation but rather just a statement of fact of which I could only reply "yes, very sad" and think about how our fear of a failed political system (communism) has left a legacy of destruction in many parts of the world. A fews days later while trekking alone in the countryside I returned to the village to hear the caution about the unexploded mines and cluster bombs in the area. I only spent a little part of the trek off-trail, although enough that it did give me a momentary pause. The irony of an American stepping on an American dropped mine didn't escape my thoughts either. "Just desserts" is what I'm sure many would have thought, and who would've blamed them? Annually, these explosives kill and maim hundreds of Laotians 35 years after their intended use.

Once in Pakse I fortunate to be a guest of Bertrand and Lyne from France. Couchsurfers and true citizens of the world, Bertrand's work in the coffee industry had placed them in extended residency in Mexico, El Salvador, Dominican Republic and now they were gracefully gliding into middle age in Laos. They had been living in Pakse for over 3 years and were a wealth of information about all things Lao. With their experiences it was easy to sit back and soak in their advice and perspectives. Lyne talked of the linguistic benefits received by her children with their growing up abroad and Bertrand opined about the paradox that although Laotions are extremely good people, they are also hideously corrupt. Given his previous locales of residency this kind of statement held a lot weight.

The two were also able to provide some insight into the peculiar culinary habits of the Laotians. A market stroll highlighted their delicacies: beetles, frogs, chicken embryos--they eat just about everything Bertrand stated. Most revolting is the dish where they drain the contents of a cow's intestine into a soup. So, if someone says they had shit soup for breakfast, they are not making a metaphor for their terrible morning, they actually had it for breakfast. I however did not have shit for breakfast the next morning but instead parted with Bertrand and Lyne and followed their advice to head off to the Bolaven Plateau, where I was to end up spending 5 days in the village of Tadlo.

Set to the side of a waterfall and within walking distance to 2 others, the village was a nice place to assimilate into laid back Laotian living. The daily river-swim usually ended up with an elephant or two appearing out of the trees, ferrying people around the area.

I spent one of the days hiking to 3rd waterfall. I set out armed with it's name, "Tat-sung," which means "mighty wall." Well no, that's not actually what it means but I know you like information so just play along with it will ya? Although there is supposedly a trail all the way to the falls, a walkaround in a neighboring village threw me off it. No need to worry (I didn't hear of the mines until later), as I would occasionally stumble across farmers who would point me in the right direction when needed. Like the one I came across in an empty field, sickle in hand, spliff in mouth, and baby on his back. Tat-sung? That way.....

When I did reach it, its volume was significantly less than the other two falls, although it was several times higher. As the only one there it made for just about the most perfect jungle shower one could have.

Just when I thought I was wrapping up my time in the village an opportunity came up to do a bit of teaching. A Spaniard, who had been staying in the village for some time, hilariously announced at dinner one night that he had just realized that he had flight for home in 36 hours. In Bangkok. This presented a bit of an urgent problem as he and a teenage Buddhist monk had started an English language class for the village kids about a week earlier and now needed people to continue it as about 40 kids were eagerly showing up everyday. Myself, two Brits, and a German agreed to do it, although my motivation was more to counter the instruction of the Queen's English on the kids. "Listen kids, I know what their saying but its actually a trash can not a rubbish bin..."
The following day the Brits and German were leaving so I decided to stay another day to teach the class and hopefully rope some other travellers into carrying on the class. With an incredible guilt tripping ability acquired from my mother, I harassed all the other travellers in the village. "Oh the 4,000 Islands area sounds nice place to head to today..I guess the kids will just teach themselves English..."
With this I was able to get a Canadian and another Brit to assist the class that night and then I was off to the Islands myself.....

Hopefully the rumors are true and there is no electricity on the Mekong River island I am en-route to. If true, you'll hear from me next in Cambodia.

Cell phone turned off (if i had one),
Brian

Sunday

Hanging a Left


Due to time constraints my northernly progress was halted and I decided that I needed to take a left. Or a trip west into Laos if you want specifics.
Arranging transport across a border is always a crapshoot. Inevitably plans, people, and modes of travel become sketchier around a border. So when booking passage from Hoi An to Savannakhet, Laos from one of the many booking agents I was a bit surprised when she said that because the border was not open 24 hours, the group I was to be travelling with ("yes, yes, there will be other travellers on the bus" she stated) will be spending the night in the dormitory of a guesthouse in a town neighboring the border. This prospect sort of intrigued me. Mostly because I began to think how interesting it would be to take say the passsengers on a subway carriage or other public transport and force all the people spend the night somewhere. You know, find out what really makes that old man tick that is manically jabbering to himself, or what is really bothering that goth kid giving everyone the stare down. But really this was not NYC, and the bus passengers were probably going to be the regular backpacker crew that is more or less cut from the same cloth, so the concept actually isnt that cool.
Due to the ridiculous business manner in which this trips are usually done, you buy a ticket from a booking office and basically you are at the mercy of what company they outsource the actual transporting. On a given trip you may come under the "care" for about 5 different transport "companies." This was to be my case on this particular trip. In the game of cards I drew and 7/2 offsuit and started on on a crappy bus that became crappier as I was transferred continously from one to another. And yes I was the only one going to Laos. So the grand social experiment of the public bus dormitory lock-in consisted of me being told to get off of the bus in some non-descript town near the border and to ride on the back of a motor scooter to some family's house, where I was to sleep before being put back on a bus in the morning. The tally marks in the weird experiences column on this trip just reached 65 by the way.
So early the next morning with my mode of transport slowly digressing from a bus to inevitably a Fred Flinstone car, I reached the border. As as the only westerner there, the moneychangers were on me like the proverbial stink on shit. It was a pretty painless ordeal however and amazingly after a brief staredown and prodding my last bus driver ditched his initial plans of leaving me there and pocketing the rest of my fare and grudgingly paid another driver to drive me the rest of the route in Laos.
Refreshingly the people in Laos are very laid back and don't quite have the nose for the tourist dollar like the Vietnamese do. I spent my first two nights in the quiet Mekong rivertown Savannakhet. This morning I woke up and drew another bad card hand and had a 6 hour bus ride where they packed them in like sardines. I was lucky in the sense that I had a window seat as I was able to drape my shoulder and right arm out the window the entire journey. I was not worried about possible loss of limb during the trip as the blood had left my arm in the first hour and the severation would have been painless.
On a good note, I am currently Couchsurfing with a nice older French couple who have a nice pad and great info on what to do in the area.


Thursday

Be Careful What You Wish For...


Realizing that I needed to outrun this damn Swineflu that was bound to hit Vietnam at any moment, I decided the best thing to do would be get off the tourist trail for a couple days. Plus, I had been feeling a little too comfortable lately and felt the need to get away from the masses for a bit. Or so I thought.
In Hoi An, I decided to rent another motorbike and set off for a 3 day trip along the coast and eventually to Bach Ma National Park between Danang and Hue. I tried to explain this 300km trip to the lady that I was renting the moto from, stressing that I needed a quality bike that wouldn't go on the fritz in BFE. She first pointed to a motorbike and said "yeah good." I shook my head a little at the state of it and then she pointed to another bike and said "really good" and pointed back to the original bike and said "not good." With these words of confidence I set off out of Hoi An, past the Marble Mountains, China Beach (where U.S. soldiers used to take R&R), Danang, and finally through a series of mountain passes, one so enclosed in fog that many motorists stop and give alms for safe passage at one of the many roadside shrines that line the road. I clutched my lucky rabbit's foot and rode on. Once the fog cleared on the highest pass the views around this coastal road where pretty amazing. The highlight of the ride was definitely the peasant women who flagged down my bike from a far distance for a ride but when I stopped her terror stricken face at who she had waved down told me she was experiencing some deep regret. Through some hand gestures I convinced her that she would probably live through this ride and we were off. I dropped her off about 20km down the road and not long later I arrived at the entrance of Bach Ma. Formerly a mountain retreat for wealthy french colonists at the turn of the 20th century, the area later saw heavy fighting during the Vietnam War. Weapons, munitions, and human remains are still stumbled across and visitors are advised to stay on trails due to existence of unexploded mines that still litter the rain forest.

At the parks gate they informed me that for safety reasons I could not take my moto to the summit, where I was planning on spending the night. Basically an excuse to charge visitors. If I had to pinpoint a time where my love affair with Vietnam started to wane, I would say this was to be it. They said that my only option was to hire a car to take me up for about the price of a domestic flight in Vietnam. Or I could hike the 15 km up the mountain. Not one to voluntarily take a financial raping, I opted for the hike up. It was a pretty tiresome uphill climb, although my mental picture of a nice Vietnamese run guesthouse, with a friendly family offering me hot noodle soup at the top kept me going. 4 hours later I arrived at the top and found a manager who couldnt be bothered by the fact that the park authority had booked me into his "guesthouse." Apparently the free market benefits had yet to hit the national park circuit and because visitors are randomly placed in one of the 3 (overpriced) guesthouses on the summit, there is no incentive for cleanliness, friendliness, or just general care. Deekhead was able to confirm to me that I was the only person staying the night and was shown to an empty, derelict structure about half a kilometer from everything else.

My set up was mattress on the floor with the naked bulb in my room serving as the only illumination in this abandoned structure. Strong winds violently blew open and shut the doors and shutters all night in the 15 empty rooms around me. With heavy fog making visiblity zero around me it was probably one of the more eerie places I have laid my head. I went to bed wondering just what in the hell I was doing on top of this mountain.
Things did not get better. The next morning I woke early and started the 15km descent down. At the bottom the park guard tried to swindle a fee for "watching my bike" and I about lost it. I left him looking up "F-yourself" in his pocket English dictionary and jumped on the bike to head back south. Besides raining the whole descent down the moutain, it continued for about 3 of the 4 hours of the journey back. My cheap poncho provided little protection and the ride back was wet and cold. I tried to keep spirits up while riding throught the downpours by repeating the lines in Forrest Gump in the rain montage--"big ole' fat rain, rain that came in sideways...." Yes, wet deliruim had kicked in but it would pass. I arrived back in Hoi An a day early and decided to stay the night to dry out and head back out the next day.
The weather was a better the next day and I took the bike towards the ruins of My Son. It was a ride into the countryside that I wanted and was off track enough to see some genuine smiles and a sidestreet cockfight.

Weather and greedy bastards could not dampen the trip and overall it was good to get out and about. Sounds like a good time for a scenery change..

Sunday

Dressing Like a Million Dong


Yes the currency here in Vietnam is called the Dong. Quit snickering you gutterbrain. Anyways, here I am a millionaire in Dong (17,000=1 USD). And because so I decided I needed to look like it. Having heard as far back as before the start of this trip from many people that if I ever found myself in Vietnam to go to Hoi An and get myself some dirt-cheap tailored clothing. Now, as I sit here in 4 year-old khaki shorts and soon to be wearing swim trunks that have seen 5 summers, it is pretty easy to infer that I have little interest in the latest fashions but the chance to get a hand-tailored suit that start at $50, was an opportunity I could not pass up. I guess its an investment for returning to a life previously lived. A step closer to old Brian and a step back from vagabond Brian. The kind of progression that wakes me up in feverish sweating in recent nights.

So the deal here in Hoi An is that this quaint old trading village has turned itself into a mecca for backpackers and high-end shoppers alike to stop in and buy custom made western clothing for a fraction of the cost. And while orders are being sewn up in lightening speed, one can enjoy the scenic town and white sand beaches.
It was a bit of a ridiculous process actually. I went into a tailor shop, they gave me something similiar to a GQ Men's magazine and told me to point at anything I wanted and said they would make it for me in 24 hours. Now lets stop here and discuss just how I intended to pay for anything on my $12 a day budget that allows for little frivolousness. Credit card. They took it, I have one. Am I worried about credit card bills when I get back home? No, because I applied for a government bailout. And since everyone is getting one these days, why shouldn't I? I mean, this is a suit were talking about, not toxic assets.

With non-payment mentality in mind I got myself one suit, one pair of khaki pants, one button down shirt, and one pair of atrocious green "holiday pants" that I intend to wear every Paddys Day and Christmas for the rest of my life. I even had the tailors sew in some elastic into the waistband to ensure comfortable fitting during my more prosperous years. These were by far my favorite purchase. So the total for everything came to $150 and was done in 24 hours, followed by two quick adjustment try-ons. I posted them home so they should arrive around the time I will and just in time to serve as evidence to potential employers that I am am not afraid of stretching a buck with sweatshop labor.
Besides my brief foray into compulsive consumerism, I also rented a bike for a couple days ($0.60) to bike to the beaches and nearby fishing village. Amazingly, I had only pedaled 10 minutes outside of tourist populated Hoi An and came into a fishing village where most people seemed a bit surpised I was there. I was hanging out around the harbor and a group of fishermen were lounging on the bow of their boat and kept motioning for me to come out and join them. So I walked out on the bamboo gangway that led up to the boat and found myself in the midst of a little Sunday Funday celebration. I was immediately included in the continous passing of the communal beer cup and was strongly coaxed into eating the contents of a blackened skillet sitting on the floor of the boat. Another sample of unidentified animal that I will describe as not bad. Conversation was limited but not much was expected in the drinking ritual. The fisherman to my right was intrigued by the hair on my arms and legs compared to his hairless torso and petting them in wonderment. After repeated petting episodes I decided that this sailor had been out at sea a little too long and made a mental note to decline any invitations to head out to sea with them. I took a picture of the fishermen and they extracted a promise out of me that I would return the next day with a copy of the pic for each of them. Seeing as these 5 friends probably would never possess a picture of all of them, I agreed and brought this back to them today. I tracked down one of the fishermen and he was genuinely thrilled as was I.

Another great highlight of Hoi An and some other places in Vietnam is the Bia Hoi, which is essentially un-branded keg beer that they sell for about $0.20 a mug. Besides serving as evidence of God, these prices allow for a party even on my budget. Myself and some other travellers spent last night on a Fried Wonton and Bai Hoi crawl that probably only left me $4 lighter and gave me a renewed appreciation for the fun in activities that have "crawl" in the title.


Making a move soon. Check back to see what it is.

Yours,
Johnny Fashion

Thursday

Operation Rolling Moto


My last day in southern Vietnam was spent on a brief trip to the Mekong Delta. While there, I toured the waterways and small islands dotting the area. Also tasted some funky local concoctions including rice whiskey and some snake-juice that came from a bottle with a dead snake in it to drive the point home. It is supposed to be the Vietnamese natural Viagra, which must be consumed by them quite regularly as their population is expected to break 100 million in the near future.



Now I am checking in with you from the central coast in sunny Nha Trang, where backpackers go to get beachside and where 65 year-old creepsters come to marry teenagers. The former activity is in my budget so I spent the first 2 days taking advantage of the first swimmable waters in 6 months. Despite efforts not to, I also received the inaugural burn of the summer. Vain attempts at applying sunscreen were futile and I am begining to suspect there might some connection to the recent closing of the local toothpaste factory and the cheap sunscreen I bought. I thought the minty smell was just a novelty of the Vietnamese brand, not a result of clever re-labeling.


After a bit of relaxing, almost to the point where my pulse was undiscernable, I decided that I needed to give the old heart a workout. This involved joining the frenzied masses and renting a motorbike ($2.50/day) to explore the nearby countryside, where no matter the country, people are invariably friendlier. Having your own transport is such a great way to see foriegn places. It appeases the god of whimsicality, who has never failed to provide me with memorable experiences on this trip. And in this instance gave me the chance to randomly come across a Vietnamese who must have studied at the same sign language school as I because he was able to change my status from terribly lost to almost to the desired location in a quick series of comprehensive gestures.

Budget-wise things are rolling OK, although the cost of transportation is the X-factor I am worried about. It is ridiculously cheap here to get around, its just the distances I envision covering in the next 5 weeks are going to cut things close. I am trying to put off the thoughts now but a few drastic measures may be implemented to bring the budget back on the mark. I have heard the mail system is quite cheap so I may just post myself to the next country.

Heading on an onvernight bus to Hoi An tonight. And yes, I know about the draw of Hoi An so no need to email me. For those who don't know, I let you know when I get there.

Yours,
Cavity fighting SPF 45

Sunday

History, Tragic and Inspiring.

I first noticed the thin beads of sweat on my body welcoming the sun this morning around 6am. It was a hot one. Even the locals were bitching how hot is was. Got to get near water. Lake, river, ocean, I don't care just water to immerse myself in.

The first order of business today was the War Remnants Museum, which is a fairly large exhibition on all events surrounding the Vietnam War. The exhibits were predictably subjective, but so were the textbooks I grew up with. Interestingly, part of the museum was funded by the Commonwealth of Kentucky and some major U.S. corporate organizations. The stuff was pretty gruesome and I probably would've lost my breakfast, should I have eaten any. Its worth a visit if one were to mosey on over to Vietnam.

Also noticed today that it was the anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's death, which got me pondering just how in the hell that man had so many AND diversified achievements in one lifetime. All these thoughts were brought forth from a great biography of him that I read earlier this year. That man was amazing. So I was thinking that in order to be remotely as productive as he was, a person should get no more than 4 or 5 hours of sleep a night. Then I thought that this moment in my life would be good time to see if I could productively function on exactly 5 hours of sleep every night for the next few weeks. But then recent thoughts inspired from an Economics book my buddy Shane gave me made me realize that if I was awake that long during each day it would require one more meal, which is just not in the current budget. And so as quick as that idea came, it left.

As you can see its feast or famine with the internet, now currently feasting courtesy of free internet from the sweat lodge propertiers I am staying with. They are basically forced to provide it to stay competitive with the other guesthouse providers--a beneficial product of capitalism enhancing my stay in this socialist country.

Not sure what may unfold tomorrow, but at 17:17 right now my thoughts are leaning towards a day trip to the Mekong Delta followed by a train trip north to sandy beaches.

Tam Biet,
Brian

Saturday

A Ride to Remember

"Saigon...shit...." Goes the opening line uttered by Martin Sheen in Coppola's epic movie Apocalypse Now and was also spoken under my breath during my first 15 minutes in this tropical destination known now as Ho Chi Mihn City. Only this time it was spoken in wonderment and not in disdain. No bother that I had nowhere to stay nor was the airport bus running when I arrived. This old woman said she would take me on the back of her scooter and I was all in. I initially scoffed at the idea that her 80 lbs was going to take my 225 of body plus bags to the backpacker ghetto but she was dead serious and so was the next 25 minutes of sheer amazement. Motos, lots of them pack the streets. Crissing and crossing in a bizzare display of fluidity. I read someone before had described it as a massive school of fish that all know each others rythym. I saw no blinkers just intuition. An amazingly quiet spectacle as well. I couldn't have been happier to be introduced to the city this way. The oppressive heat gave way to the breezy ride and I think right there I fell in love with Vietnam. Like a 12 y/o boy smitten after his first kiss, I was in a trance. I'm sure its all downhill from here, but special all the same. You couldn't have wiped the smile from my face with a turpentine rag.
We'll see what holds true.

Your boy,
Brian
video

Friday

Hong Kong


Even on the smallest of budget's, there is much to be done in Hong Kong. Yesterday, I took a class organized by the HK tourist board, in which a Hong Kong jeweller and gemologist gave a presentation on how to inspect the quality and genuineness of diamonds and jade. I can spot a zirconium a mile away now so if you gave you wife something a little less than precious, $50 keeps my mouth shut.

Also travelled to Lantau island and visited the giant bronze Buddha and the Po Lin monastary. They were not taking applications, so I strolled on through the Temple St. night market and had myself a little surpise soup. Ate nothing crazy this time, but my first night here I was 8 bites into my meal when I noticed I was gnawing on a chicken foot. Hmm.

Today I took a free Tai Chi lesson on the waterfront and took the necessary deep breaths that will get me through the craziness of upcoming Vietnam and SCambodia. Also have re-grown the eyes in the back of my head and my thong-sandal toe rash is ready for the weather. Its off to Ho Chi Minh City tomorrow, so we talk from there.


Q

Wednesday

Asian Touchdown


Arrived in Hong Kong and managed to find myself sharing a bunkbed in a closet sized room in a concrete catastrophe magnet of a building. Sadly this is still above my budget but its about as low as you can go in HK. Their tourist board offers tons of free stuff so will check those out tomorrow.

Later
Q

Monday

One Last Leap


You see it? You know what it means.

The other day I was walking in downtown Belfast and saw a man lightly tapping one finger on an electronic keyboard while the synthesizer played an actual tune and it occurred to me that like this man, I too was very soon going to have to come up with a genius way of making money.
Here are some realities:
I have been living more or less out of a backpack for 16 months.
Energies are vanishing.
So is money.
So is practicality.

But I have 300 British Pounds, 50 US Dollars, and 40 €uro. And a ticket to Southeast Asia leaving tomorrow. To return June 3. Do the math but I believe that is just under $12 a day, roughly half of what Lonely Planet advises shoestring budgets for the area. It is the challenge I want and need to finish this trip. Just the right circumstances for many good experiences to occur.

In perfect synchchronization my ATM card expired last week as well. Just the cash I have in my possession and nothing more.

I'm starting in Hong Kong, spending 3 days before flying to Ho Chi Minh city, Vietnam. From there my possibilities include Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Oceana before my flight out of Bangkok. As always, any contacts of these areas are greatly appreciated.

The drumbeat of normative living is getting louder but its not here just yet..

Tuesday

Road Trip Ireland

The Crew

"Archibald Thatcher"
Logistics/General Voice of Reason

"The Mean"
Cook/The Decider

Cadbury Goodness & "Old Martha"
Choc treat & Motorhome Mother (we are still trying to get her back to the nursing home we stole her from)


"SleepyMonster"
Question Asker/Animal Whisperer

"Murdock"
Disgruntled RV Driver/Itinerant living consultant

The occasion? The arrival of 3 Chicagoan friends. As requested they landed bearing no formal plan, only the expectation of good times ahead. A bit of pre-departure talk among ourselves concluded that although we were all still mildy awesome, our prime of coolness had probably been declining since the glorious college years. Good thing our new buddy Keith, who was to rent us his motorhome, also possessed a Back To the Future DeLorean car completely fitted out with a Flux Capacitor. Ready to transport us back to our former glory.

Although Keith got high marks in street cred for his badass ride, he came up short in the judgement department when he handed me the keys to his motorhome.
Cause we were off like a pack of Banshees*!

*We found out during the trip that a Banshee is in fact a spirit in Irish mythology who appears to announce someone's death, which was a fact unknown to me and yet another revelation that I don't understand the meaning and origin of most of the expressions I use.

In my excitement I jumped ahead a bit. Before departing Belfast in the Party Palace, the crew and I rented a wee car and drove over to County Fermanagh to do a CouchSurf with the Whaley's, the family I initially surfed with back in February. The type of people that put you at ease within 10 minutes and feel thoroughly attached by day's end. They were kind enough to host us all and give Shane, Bridget, and Mary their first CS experience. Although we only had the afternoon and evening with them, it was enough time to see the nearby Necarne castle and drop in on my friend Niamh's uncle who runs the town's hotel/pub and is regionally famous for ruffling conventional feathers by organizing a parade of turkeys through the town and holding a wolf whistling competition soon with Miss Northern Ireland as the bait. I am sure he has some good stories to tell, should one be able to understand what he is saying.
And so after our stay with the Whaleys, we headed back to Belfast to return the car and pick up our home on wheels. For the first day our compass pointed North, with stops to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and Ireland's only World Heritage Site--The Giant's Causeway before we found some of our brethren and parked the RV just outside the Northern city with 3 names--LondonDerry, Derry, and the postmodern Stroke City, for those who refuse to the passive political game.

The first couple nights of RV docking put us in coastal RV parks and out of the possiblity for town carousing. Lucky for us, the Party Palace was equipped with a Disco in the back of it. With a U-shaped lounge and 2x2ft dance floor, the Party Palace was an apt abode for spontaneous fun and hadn't a group of men so politely burrowed my last disco ball back in Turkey, the Da Club in the RV would have been fully fitted.

The next few days brought us through Donegal and down the west coast before we set us shop in Galway. Galway's charm kept us there for 2 nights, with highlights being the repeated telling of the legend of Billy Lawless in town pubs, the gathering and cooking of sea fare (probably tainted), and our consorting with a certain Galway Hooker--the beer that is.
After Galway we headed down to the Dingle Penninsula to check out the berries down there and also to experience the area that had been so widely recommended to us. Also met up with my friend Niamh D , who was there camping with a friend on their Easter Break. The last night saw us in Dublin and from there most of the crew stayed to await there flight while I sprinted back to Belfast to return the suprisingly intact RV and hastily pack up my life for the next departure. A great trip made memorable by the unique personalities hailing from Chitown. This blog is missing many pics and stories, so it will be continously updated for awhile. I just wanted to lay the base down before leaving.